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May 4, 2021 4:10 pm
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Children of Polish WW2 Hero Capt. Witold Pilecki Condemn Appointment of Hardline Nationalist to Auschwitz Museum Council

avatar by Ben Cohen

The son and granddaughters of one of Poland’s legendary World War II resistance heroes have joined a searing attack on the Polish government’s recent decision to appoint a hardline nationalist former Prime Minister to the advisory council of the Auschwitz concentration camp site.

In a letter to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Marowiecki, a group of descendants of Auschwitz prisoners condemned the appointment last month of former PM Beata Szydło, a top member of the ruling Law and Justice Party, to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum Council.

Critics have asserted that the presence of Szydło, who is now a member of the European Parliament, is a potentially fatal step towards “politicizing” the museum’s content in tandem with the government’s wider campaign to muzzle historical research into collaboration between the occupying Nazis and Polish citizens in the extermination of the Jews during the German occupation of Poland.

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Charging that Szydło had built her political career by promoting “ideologies of exclusion,” the letter asserted that prisoners “in the infested barracks of Auschwitz did not dream of exclusion. Their dream was of a Poland friendly to citizens, no matter who they are, what they are called, where they come from and what religion they profess.”

Attacking Szydło’s record while she was in the prime minister’s office from 2015-2017, the letter declared: “We remember the statements excluding refugees, undermining the achievements of Holocaust researchers, tolerating overtly fascist organizations, and finally the denial of EU alliances that were created, among other things, so that the history of Auschwitz would never be repeated.”

Among the signatories to the letter were Andrzej Pilecki, Anna Pilecka and Beata Pilecka — the son and granddaughters of the iconic Polish wartime resistance leader, Capt. Witold Pilecki — as well as relatives of other Auschwitz prisoners.

The addition of the Pilecki family’s signatures will have come as an embarrassing blow to the Polish government, which prides itself upon its nationalist credentials.

A military veteran of Polish campaigns against both Soviet and Nazi invaders, Witold Pilecki was among the first Polish prisoners to be deported to Auschwitz in late 1940. Once inside, he organized Polish resistance groups within the camp, sending a series of eyewitness reports to the government-in-exile that documented Auschwitz’s evolution from a prisoner-of-war camp into a forced labor and extermination center where one million Jews were murdered alongside Roma, Soviet, Polish and other prisoners.

Pilecki escaped from Auschwitz in April 1943, participating in the Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis the following year. Following the defeat of the Germans, Pilecki turned his attention to the Soviets, who occupied Poland after 1945. In 1947, Pilecki was arrested by the Soviets, enduring more than a year of torture at the hands of his captors before he was summarily executed.

This week’s protest letter follows the resignation of four of the Auschwitz’s council’s nine members in the past month. Holocaust experts Prof. Stanislaw Krajewski, Marek Lasota, Krystyna Oleksy and Prof. Edward Kosakowski all departed from the council in protest at Szydło’s appointment.

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